There is a right time to be called by God, and that time is right now! It can seem as if all the planets have to align or there has to be a choir of angels in the background, but in fact there’s no better time than the present. Regardless of who you are, where you’ve been, or where you are going, God calls you in this very moment. There are great stories in scripture of people being called at ordinary and extraordinary moments—an absurd proposal (Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7), a party (John 2:1-11), a road trip (Acts 9:3-6), and many others.
What does it mean to be called by God? It means that God desires to connect personally with each and every one of us and that our whole life is a response to God. We commit ourselves to a life relationship with person, family, or community. We seek education in order to prepare ourselves for a certain form of service in the world. We build a career using the gifts and talents we have been given. In these and other ways we give our lives to God.
There are also smaller but no less significant choices we make day-to-day in response to God’s call: a kind word to a stressed-out colleague, an opportunity to enjoy the rain, an extra effort to make a good project great.
The key is to be open to God’s invitation to connect with God here and now. In this way we open ourselves to think, feel, and act from a graced place. It can be helpful to have a spiritual friend or mentor with whom you can talk about calling (click here for more on having a spiritual director) and also to read the stories of how others have been called—be sure to check out the stories in scripture and stories about the saints.
That is a question believers of every generation have asked and have had to answer in their lives. If we look at the testimony of nearly 2,000 years, we see that the responses have been varied and many. Some believers lived out their faith in communities of vowed religious or clergy. Some have been missionaries, others monastics or even hermits.
The great majority of Christians since Christ, however, has practiced their faith in what we could call “everyday life,” whether married or single, working in a job, caring for a home and children, or living a life of service in some other way. Those of us who take these paths are challenged by our faith to be “in the world but not of it.”
What does that mean? The words of Jesus and the gospel stories that depict him in action are timeless guides, as relevant today as when they first happened. Jesus lived and taught values and priorities that we can use to guide our own choices today. Here are a few of the most fundamental values:
First things first and eyes on the prize
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33). Here’s all a Christian really needs to remember about following Jesus, today or in any age. We only have so much time and energy to give to the world, and life is indeed short. If we put other goals ahead of our spiritual aspirations, we may find we run out of time before getting around to being the disciple we had always meant to be.
Need further convincing? Try these passages on for size:
• Mark 8:36 (There is no profit in gaining the world if you lose your soul along the way)
• Mark 4:14-20 (Cultivate the Word carefully so that it can bear fruit in your life. Watch out for distractions!)
Keep it simple: Begin and end with love
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
• Matthew 7:12 (Dust off the Golden Rule and practice it.)
• Matthew 5:43-44 (Everyone loves their friends, nothing special there. Try loving and blessing your enemies!)
Service is the path to greatness
“Jesus summoned them and said to them, 'You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant' ” (Mark 10:42-43).
Don’t believe you are up to the job? Just ask for help:
• Luke 11:9-10 (Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.)
Finally, for further inspiration, check out the biblical prophets. Here’s an example from one who knew how to boil things down to the essentials: “What the Lord requires of us is this: to act with justice, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
• The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis has been inspiring Christians for centuries. Learn more and pick up a copy today.
Dating while discerning depends a lot on where you are in your discernment. If you are looking at your life and trying to figure out what path would best help you become fully who you are, then I encourage you to explore the possibilities! Date, visit religious communities, do a year of service, try out a new job, and go where you feel alive.
Do these things responsibly of course. Be honest with the person you are dating and be honest with yourself. As you continue to explore, you will find that some of your choices feel more in sync with how you want to be in the world and how you feel God is calling you. That’s the time when you might begin to focus yourself and your search.
If you are at a point in your life where you have explored many options and are ready to commit yourself more fully to one pathway and give yourself to pursuing God in that manner (whether it is a relationship or ministry or way of life), then you will have to make serious choices in regard to the possibilities you have been exploring.
Becoming a member of a religious community or a hermit or a priest doesn’t magically happen on the day you enter. It occurs gradually because you’ve already begun to make choices in your life that resonate with consecrated life. You aren’t dating because “you are not supposed to do that in discernment” but because it’s not where you feel most alive to your calling from God. That doesn’t mean that a relationship was no good or wrong, only that you want to pursue wholeheartedly another way of being for God.
My prayers are with each of you who are called to find their way in the midst of relationships, commitments, and longings. I highly recommend that you have a good spiritual director who can help you navigate these waters and remain true to yourself and God.
A spiritual director is a wonderful companion on your life’s journey. Whether you are discerning your vocation or want to tune in to how God is moving in your life, a spiritual director can help you along the way. There are a number of things to consider when looking for a spiritual director.
First, think about the reasons why you are drawn to spiritual direction. What are some of the spiritual or life questions that are on your mind and in your heart? What are some of the significant landmarks of your faith journey?
Second, what are important characteristics of a spiritual director that attract you? Do you prefer a female or male director, someone from your own faith tradition, someone with a sense of humor or familiarity with a particular spirituality or culture?
Third, check out the spiritual directors in your area. Start by asking around and seeing if a leader at your parish or a school chaplain can recommend any spiritual directors. You can also contact local retreat centers. Most will have certified spiritual directors on staff. Attending a retreat led by a spiritual director can be a good way to see if you are comfortable with a person before making a one-on-one appointment. You might also check with local theology schools or religious communities to see if they have a list of spiritual directors. A good resource is Spiritual Directors International which has a “Seek and Find” guide as well as a number of resources on spiritual direction and discernment.
Fourth, meet with a few different spiritual directors. Spiritual directors expect that you will need time to decide if the relationship is a good “fit.” Feel free to ask them questions about how they do spiritual direction, what they think about prayer, and what they find helpful when in discernment. Pay attention to how you feel when talking with the spiritual director and listen to how the Spirit is leading you.
For more suggestions on finding a spiritual director, see Finding a Spiritual Director on the Spiritual Directors International website.
Recently Sister Julie was asked about suggestions for a meaningful gift to someone making their final vows as a member of religious community. She actually gets asked this question a lot and has a page on her website devoted to this topic.
Vocation is one of those words that tends to cue the spooky music. What does it mean that God “calls” us? When the religious imagination runs wild on this topic, we begin to think: You can run but you can’t hide when God drafts you for a particular service. Look at what happened to Jonah, who tried to outrun God and wound up in the belly of a whale!
A website visitor’s question continues: “Does God plan our professional life, whom we marry, and who will come to be our children?” This line of thinking gets us to the crux of the matter, which is: How free is our freedom? Is free will a polite fiction, when God has our destiny all worked out in advance? The short answers are: Our freedom is real, human history has no blueprint, and God is prepared to greet any choice we might make with a constellation of grace and possibility. So feel—really and seriously—free.
Like any divine gift, our freedom comes complete with responsibility. It does, after all, make a difference which choices we make. Choose the way of destruction, and you’re in for a world of hurt. Choose the way of planting and building, and the future blossoms into fuller and greater life. What we reap, we sow. That isn’t God rewarding us or getting even with us, as the case may be. It’s just the natural consequences of our free decision.
Yet we say God calls us. To what, if not to particular things? God calls us to fullness of life. God wants you to be everything you can be, to the height and breadth and depth of your being. God wants you to be fully alive, which means loving, giving, expressing, and radiant—just as God is. We’re made in the image and likeness of God, right? So answer that call, and you have stepped into your vocation for sure.
Book of Jonah; then compare to: Genesis 1:26-31; 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 30:19-20; 1 Samuel 3:1-10; Ruth 1:16-17; Isaiah 6:8; Mark 1:16-20; Romans 5-7; 1 Corinthians 1-3
Running into the Arms of God: Stories of Prayers, Prayer as Story by Patrick Hannon (ACTA Publications)
Finding God in Each Moment: The Practice of Discernment in Everyday Life by Carol Ann Smith, S.H.C.J. and Eugene F. Merz, S.J. (Ave Maria Press)
Happiness is the stick by which we tend to measure the success of our lives, isn’t it? Even Saint Augustine admitted, “We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition.” Yet many people seem to think that happiness is an accident of birth, or tied to particular circumstances or acquisitions, or even a goal to be pursued in itself. Scripture teaches that happiness is not a goal; it is a gift. God offers this gift through the works of creation, and we discover it ultimately in coming to know the Creator behind it all.
The biblical idea of happiness is linked to the word beatitude (Latin for “bliss”). We think first of the Beatitudes Jesus offers in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Sometimes the primary word of each beatitude is translated as “blessed,” but a more literal rendering would be the cry, “Happy you!” The eight choices noted in Matthew’s list—including being just, pure of heart, merciful, a peacemaker—already find the chooser in a happy state. Because God is the source of human happiness, doing as God does automatically places us in the condition of bliss.
So the short answer to the question is: Happiness comes from living according to God’s will. Following God's will, in fact, is the only things that does; or as Saint Thomas Aquinas put it, “God alone satisfies.” It’s not for nothing that the word gospel literally means “good news.” Like any good news that comes to you, the gospel ought to make your day—or in this case, your lifespan and then some.
Saint Paul also lists joy as one of the nine fruits or by-products of the Holy Spirit. As Christians we carry the Spirit’s joy within us, and one way to tell is how joyfully we experience our lives. Saint Francis de Sales went so far as to warn against giving in to excessive sadness because it was counter to the life of faith.
That doesn’t mean that sadness is never appropriate; as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, there’s a time for everything under heaven. But clinging to moods does mean that we miss opportunities to demonstrate to others that the news of Christianity is, in fact, as good as advertised.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Matthew 5:3-11; Galatians 5:22-23
The Call to Christian Happiness, “talks on the shortest route to happiness,” by Sherry Weddell and Father Michael Sweeney, O.P., from the Catherine of Siena Institute, a nonprofit ministry of the Western Province of the Dominicans, http://shop.siena.org/.
Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden (Loyola Press)
Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace)
The pursuit of holiness isn’t an item guaranteed in the American Declaration of Independence. But it is a quest worthy of our lives. What is holiness? Nothing less than the essence of God. The prophet Isaiah is the first to encounter God as the “Holy One,” which enables him to recognize his own unworthiness in God’s presence. The call “to be holy, as God is holy” issued in the Book of Leviticus means drawing even closer than Isaiah did, to unite with God utterly—to be as God is.
Intimidated? I admit it’s a pretty challenging path. Yet it’s in keeping with everything else we seek as believers: wisdom, justice, peace, goodness, love. These are all aspects of God in which we are invited to take part. Why does God want us to share in the divine life? Because that’s who we really are and were created to be. Remember: We were first made in the image of God and later went astray; our quest for holiness is just a U-turn back to our original likeness.
So how do we get there from here? In the Old Testament, when called to be a holy nation, Israel is given the Law of Moses to assist in this new vocation. The law is understood not as simply a list of things to do or avoid doing but a lamp to illuminate God’s will. If our goal is to be like God, knowing God’s ways is essential.
Jesus provides his followers with a more compact instruction: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Love will teach us everything we need to know about being like God, for as Saint John says, “God is love.” Saint Paul also gives us a helpful rearview mirror in which to check our attempts at loving by telling us what love looks like in 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind.”
Many of us don’t see ourselves donning a halo anytime soon. Even the canonized saints (“saint” comes from sanctus, Latin for “sacred” or “holy”) didn’t start out holy-card ready. But we don’t have to worry about that. The way to holiness is the work of love.
Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 6:1-7; Luke 10:27; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13;1 John 4:16
For more on saints: www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/faqs.asp; www.cin.org/saints.html; www.beliefnet.com/ep/patron-saints.asp.
Holiness by William J. O’Malley, Maryknoll (Orbis Books)
Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton (Doubleday)